The following is a destination post by Oh Rome.
Rome is an incredibly divisive city. Some love the hustle, bustle, noise and chaos of the Italian capital; others are overwhelmed by it and flee for the relative serenity of the nearby coast and countryside. For this reason it is very important to find out about the city and understand it before visiting, particularly if you’re planning to stay for more than a few days. Finding accommodation and settling in to the city can be difficult if you’re not really sure what to expect and the culture shock can be huge if you’ve never visited a southern European city before.
Finding somewhere to stay
As in most major European cities, an apartment rental is the best option if you’ll be in town for more than a few days. They offer a shortcut to the heart of Roman society and allow you to feel part of the city even when you’re relaxing in bed with a good book! If you’re going to be in Rome for less than two weeks, then an apartment rental agency is the place to start your search. Most will have in-depth guides to the areas of the city and be happy to answer any questions you have about the apartments or areas of the city. Oh-Rome also offers floor plans of every apartment which can be useful when you’re trying to work out how much space you’ll actually have. Guests coming from North America will likely find even the largest apartment in Rome to be a bit on the small side.
Rooms and apartments for longer-term rental can be found on Craigslist, which can be an easier option than dealing with an Italian real estate agent on your first days in the city. Do be sensible, though, and avoid handing over any money before you’ve seen the room.
If you’re only in Rome for a short time, consider an apartment in one of Rome’s central districts like Prati or Ludovisi. Apartments here will be more expensive than elsewhere in Rome but if you look carefully you may come across a hidden gem. Plus the ability to walk to the city’s main attractions (or perhaps stumble home) is invaluable.
If you’re staying for longer, you might widen your search to include Monteverde or the up-and-coming northern area of the city. By staying here you’ll not only pay around 25% less in monthly rent, but will see a far more authentic slice of Italian life than you’d find in the tourist-dominated city centre.
Dining as the Romans do – places to eat
Rome has a fantastic selection of restaurants, bars, cafés and other eateries but unless you know what you’re looking for then it’s all too easy to end up in an overpriced tourist trap serving mediocre microwaved food. The best way to avoid this is to follow the locals and eat when they do (early lunches and late dinners are the norm in Rome). TripAdvisor and Yelp, for example, have a huge number of reviews and recommendations.
If you’re looking for a quick lunch, head to a Tavola Calda (literally a ‘hot plate!’). These serve an excellent range of traditional Italian food and will generally offer lunch for under €15 per person. Volpette Piu near Pyramide metro station is an excellent choice if you’re looking for Italian specialties whereas those looking for some more exotic flavors should visit Fal Fal near Porta Furba metro.
If you’re craving something a bit more special, keep an eye out for an ‘osterie’. These are the typical family-run Italian restaurants that feature in movies, advertising and the dreams of romantics everywhere. While there are fewer of these in Rome as there once were (and some have now become tourist traps) there are still plenty around if you look hard enough. Osteria La Gensola, which specializes in fish, offers excellent quality food for around €30 per person including wine.
Shopping in Rome
Rome’s food markets are legendary for a reason. The market at Campo dei Fiori has so far resisted the relentless push of mass tourism and remains the best place in the city to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and Italian specialties. Budding chefs looking to add a more exotic twist to their meals (or maybe just looking for a taste of home) should head to the Mercato Piazza Vittorio which is very popular with the city’s growing ethnic and immigrant communities.
If you’re staying in an apartment then be sure to check out delis and other food shops in the local area. Don’t be shy about asking neighbors or other people you meet for their recommendations. There are very few Italians who won’t get into a passionate debate over who makes the best pasta!
Finally, don’t hesitate to visit the local supermarket to pick up some of your provisions. This is after all where the locals truly do their shopping! Grocery stores in Rome range from small family-owned shops selling basic essentials (these are generally open long hours) to huge hypermarkets selling everything under the sun and much else besides. The Auchan at Porti de Roma is a good choice if you’re looking to do a big shop. Otherwise just keep your eyes peeled. A supermarket is never far away!
Rome is an incredibly popular destination for expats, gap-year students and other career breakers so check through your Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections in case anyone you know is already there. It happens more often than you’d think! Otherwise language exchanges and Meetup.com are great ways to find new people and improve your Italian. Finally (say it quietly…) it may even be worth visiting an Irish pub. Conversation will be easy and they are excellent places to trade experiences with fellow travelers.
It’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll make of Rome until you arrive. If you’ve previously been to Spain or Portugal then you’ll have some idea of the culture and pace of life you’ll encounter in the Italian capital. Rome may be the best city you’ve ever visited but do your research first to know what you’ll find when you get there. Make sure you have somewhere to stay for a few nights when you first arrive as finding accommodation can be very tricky during the summer months.
Don’t be afraid to start talking to people. Italians are (generally) a very friendly bunch and most will be happy to help improve your Italian (and their English!). Finally remember to make the most of every minute of your career break and do your best to avoid falling into an English language bubble. Throw the smartphone away, leave the map at home and take time to explore the city on your own terms; you never know what’s around the next corner!
Photos: xiquinhosilva, Andrey Belenko, Ambism